With the bullpen fixed by the addition of Mark Melancon, for a very big price, 2017 looked like a season in which the Giants might start a run of odd year magic. What happened instead was a faceplant of historic proportions. The team, by preseason projections which are known to be generally both accurate and conservative, was supposed to win between 86 and 90 games and contend for playoff spot and possible championship. Optimistic scenarios had them as high as 94-96 Wins. Instead, they have stumbled and crawled to a 27-49 record.
What has Giants fans concerned, and rightly so, is this season was headed south long before Madison Bumgarner took his fateful ride in Colorado. Maybe if you squinted hard, you could see some early signs of a turnaround, but even with a fully healthy Bumgarner, it would have taken an historic comeback to overcome that start. While there have been a few strong performances by individual players, the failure is broad based and accomplished with a core the Giants appear to be locked into for the remainder of the decade through a series of longterm contract extensions.
I have wanted to write a post or series of posts on the great collapse for awhile now. It's not an easy topic to tackle because there does not appear to be a single cause or simple solution. I thought some basic numbers might be a good place to start. We are now within 5 games of the mathematical mid-point of the season. I went into the Fangraphs Projections section and looked up the pre-season ZIPS projections for the Giants, then divided by 2 to get the first half zWAR projection for each player. I then subtracted their current season fWAR to find the variance. Here is what I found(listed are player- Season Projected zWAR/2, Season To Date fWAR, Projected zWAR/2-fWAR Variance)(Disclaimer: Dan Szymborski, creator of ZIPS, warns against a adding up individual zWARs and using that to calculate a projected team win total; zWAR and fWAR may not be comparable so this is all a rough estimate of relative player performance compared to expected):
Preseason Projected Roster- Batters
Buster Posey- 2.1, 2.8, +0.7.
Brandon Crawford- 1.7, 0.8, -0.9.
Brandon Belt- 1.4, 1.0, -0.4.
Joe Panik- 1.0, 1.1, +0.1.
Eduardo Nunez- 0.9, 1.0, +0.1.
Hunter Pence- 0.9, 0.2, -0.7.
Denard Span- 0.5, 0.9, +0.4.
Jarrett Parker- 0.5, -0.1, -0.6.
Gorkys Hernandez- 0.4, -0.3, -0.7.
Kelby Tomlinson-0.2, 0.0, -0.2.
Conor Gillaspie-0.1, -0.4, -0.5.
Nick Hundley- 0.2, -0.1, -0.3.
As you can see, Buster Posey and Denard Span have been the top over-performers while there are multiple under-performers the worst one being, surprisingly, Brandon Crawford.
Preseason Projected Roster- Pitchers
Madison Bumgarner- 2.5, 0.9, -1.6.
Johny Cueto- 2.0, 0.8, -1.2.
Jeff Samardzija- 1.6, 1.9, +0.3.
Matt Moore- 0.7, 0.7, 0.0.
Ty Blach- 0.7, 0.9, +0.2.
Mark Melancon- 0.4, 0.1, -0.3.
Will Smith- 0.4, DNP, DNP.
Hunter Strickland- 0.3, 0.7, +0.4.
Matt Cain- 0.3, 0.1, -0.2.
Derek Law- 0.1, -0.2, -0.3.
Steven Okert- 0.2, 0.0, -0.2.
George Kontos- 0.1, 0.2,
Cory Gearrin- 0.05, 0.1, +0.05.
The injury to Bumgarner and underperformance by Johnny Cueto appear to be the two biggest factors in the Giants collapse but there is plenty of blame to go around.
Here is a list of fWARs accumulated by miscellaneous fill-in players who were not projected to make the Opening Day Roster:
Austin Slater- +0.5.
Michael Morse- -0.1.
Mac Williamson- -0.2.
Orlando Calixte- -0.3.
Aaron Hill- -0.4.
Drew Stubbs- -0.4.
Chris Marrero- -0.6.
Justin Ruggiano- -0.6.
Christian Arroyo- -0.6.
Of all the attempts by the Giants to fill holes/apply bandaids, Austin Slater is the only one who has delivered a positive fWAR balance. All the others were a negative whether washed up veterans, AAAA players or highly touted prospects.
A Dan Szymborski comment in the discussion of his Giants ZIPS posting on Fangraphs was most interesting in retrospect: "Overal, the position-player side of things appears to be well suited to AVOIDING THE AWFUL."(the last 3 words were bolded in his original comment). There was also no indication of major concerns for the pitching or the depth. Well, awful they have been. While perhaps none have been individually awful, the cumulative effect of a broad-based underperformance resulted in a collective awful. How and why did this occur? I don't know but I have some thoughts which I will share in future posts.